What’s in a name? An assembly of letters which identify me as me and not you. Me as “Kerry” and not “George.” It gives sharp edges to an otherwise malleable body. And yet, when I say my own name over and over and over—Kerry-Kerry-Kerry-Kerry-Kerry—I hardly know myself.I’ve been given many names. Kerry Beth at birth. I never felt like myself, if that makes any sense. Especially the “Beth.” I used to think Kerry Beth sounded like some white-gloved Southern Miss, or the opposite, a pregnant-at-sixteen-in-the-trailer KerryBethAnneMarieJoBob. I was also Kerry-Berry-Bo-Berry-Banana-Bana-Bo-Berry-Fi-Fi-Fo-Ferry-Berry! And nobody could every spell Kerry. I was either Carrie or Keri or Kari. Why couldn’t I be Lauren, which suggested a perfect canter on the back of a thoroughbred and exact elocution instead of my clumsy gait and pell-mell rush of words?
Kerry the Kissing Girl. Another one of my names, given in kindergarten because I liked to chase boys up and down the schoolbus trying to kiss them square on the lips. I was never successful but apparently kept up my attempts long enough to earn the romantic moniker. What I remember are the high-pitched squeals of the others girls as I passed them in my dash down the aisle in pursuit of my quarry. I think the squeals were more “eew” than in solidarity, though.Krazy Kerry. The beginning of some of the Bipolar highs. A nickname given in elementary school in the moments when I couldn’t calm down, laughing too hard, pushing the edges too far, unable to rein myself back in.
N the Devil. Also an elementary school name, in keeping with above, albeit with swagger.Lady of the Lake. A college nickname. This lovely one bestowed upon me after I jumped into a frigid campus lake in a drunken suicide attempt one November. The name stuck for three years. Men—boys, really—called me that to my face, with cruel intention. It was meant to humiliate and shame me. And it did.
KNB. My only name of choice. Through marriage. By love. It was a way to shed all that old history, the accumulation of ghost names and become my own chosen self. It was a way to link myself to another person, to create a bond through a name, to announce to the world that I had chosen and was chosen, feminism for once be damned. I loved getting my new Social Security Card and Driver’s License, with this new name, and inventing a new signature—what would I look like, what would my mark be on the page?And then in etymology, my name became Dark New City on the Hill. Evocative, mysterious, capable of great power. No passive Lady of the Lake.
And playful. KNB could transform into Curry Navel Bacon. A manic culinary wonder.KNB was part of a whole. Was golden coupled. Had gone forth and multipled even.
And now it had come undone.KNB, once again. What does it mean to return to a name once thought given up for good? People ask for my name, and I keep slipping, saying “B,” and then have to correct myself, or don’t, just letting it go, letting myself be B, still, while also now N. Or I write “B,” meaning “N,” on a check and have to Void it out and start again. And then there’s the matter of a signature—I don’t have one, not a reliable one yet. It changes every time I sign my new old name.
The strangest, saddest moment was receiving a check from C. a few days ago. He addressed it to me. Me: “KBN.” The me that is in days no longer his wife. The me that now carries the name of the person he met all those years before we married.And then I think maybe it’s high time to finally meet this gal who has been hiding behind the K and the B and the N after all these years. It is the name that I chose this time around.